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Judge: Prosecutors must disclose witness IDs in Duluth student's killing

Xavier Alfred Haywood1 / 6
Noah Duane Baker2 / 6
Deandre Demetrius Davenport Photo courtesy of St. Louis County Sheriff's Office3 / 6
William Grahek, the victim of the fatal shooting in Duluth on Feb. 14, 2017.4 / 6
Noah Anthony Charles King5 / 6
Tara Rai Baker6 / 6

DULUTH, Minn.—A judge has imposed a deadline for prosecutors to turn over the identities of two key witnesses to defense attorneys in a Duluth homicide case.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger said the St. Louis County Attorney's Office must disclose the names by June 1 to attorneys representing the five defendants charged in connection with the fatal shooting of University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek.

Prosecutors had sought to keep the two witnesses' identities confidential for the time being, citing concerns over their safety and the integrity of an ongoing investigation into the Feb. 14 incident.

But defense attorneys argued at a hearing last month that the disclosure of the names is critical for them to be able to effectively represent their clients and provide a defense against the murder charges.

"This Court takes the (non-disclosure) certification made by the State seriously, and recognizes the difficult balance in providing (the defendants) a full and fair opportunity to investigate his or her accusers while simultaneously avoiding compromising the sanctity of the evidence to be offered at the time of trial," Munger wrote in a nine-page order and memorandum dated Tuesday.

The motion seeking the witness disclosure was brought by Scott Belfry, a public defender representing 21-year-old Deandre Demetrius Davenport, who is accused of shooting Grahek twice during an attempted robbery of drugs and cash from the victim's East Hillside residence.

Attorneys for four co-defendants charged with aiding in various capacities also joined in the motion.

The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure state that witness identities must be disclosed unless "the prosecutor files a written certificate with the trial court that to do so may endanger the integrity of a continuing investigation or subject witnesses or other persons to physical harm or coercion."

The rules also state that the non-disclosure "must not extend beyond the time the witnesses or persons are sworn to testify at the trial."

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich acknowledged at the March 30 hearing that the state would eventually be required to turn over the identities, but argued that substantial safety and investigatory concerns remained.

In his order, Munger attempted to strike a balance between the competing interests, giving the prosecution until June 1 to turn over the names, addresses and criminal records of the two witnesses.

"Such a delay strikes an appropriate balance between the rights of (the defendants) to mount a defense, and the State's right to preserve the sanctity of its investigation," the judge wrote. "Such a delay similarly provides the State an opportunity to make any arrangements it deems appropriate regarding the safety of its witnesses."

In separate orders, Munger ruled on two bail-reduction motions brought by defendants at last month's hearing.

The judge said Davenport should continue to be held in custody on $1 million bail, but decreased co-defendant Tara Rai Baker's bail from $500,000 to $250,000.

Belfry had asked Munger to reduce Davenport's bail to $90,000, citing extensive family ties across the state and his lack of financial resources. Prosecutors said the $1 million figure was appropriate given the severity of the charges and allegations that he and his girlfriend, Baker, were planning to flee the area.

"The allegations, though unproven, evince a lack of respect for the sanctity of human life, a willingness to cast aside the rights of others for the sake of self, and a propensity for disregarding the rule of law," Munger wrote in denying the motion.

The judge did grant the bail request by Baker, who is accused of being the driver who brought her co-defendants to and from the crime scene. In bringing the request, her attorney, Sonia Sturdevant, argued that Baker was born and raised in Duluth, has little criminal history and was employed before leaving her job when her child was hospitalized.

Davenport and Baker continue to be held at the St. Louis County Jail. Co-defendants Noah Duane Baker, 19, and Noah Anthony Charles King, 18, each charged with aiding and abetting murder and robbery, also continue to be held there on $1 million bail.

A fifth defendant, 26-year-old Xavier Alfred Haywood is charged with a lesser count of aiding an offender to avoid arrest, was released after posting $50,000 bail.

Still in the early stages of the case, Munger also is considering a motion by defense attorneys to halt testing of forensic evidence obtained from a suspected murder weapon.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said testing of several DNA swabs could consume the entire samples, making further testing impossible. Fralich said last week that there are now five samples — two from live rounds, two from spent rounds and one from the trigger of the firearm — that could be consumed by testing.

While prosecutors said they have complied with evidentiary procedures and given the defense the opportunity to have an expert present for the testing, the defense attorneys contended to Munger that they are entitled to conduct their own "reasonable tests" on the evidence.

Munger issued a temporary stay on the testing, saying he would issue a final ruling after attorneys submit written arguments on the issue — likely next month.

All five defendants are due back in court on June 30.